Versatile Jacob Stockdale ready to fill any role for Ulster
Jacob Stockdale returns to the Ulster full back shirt for Friday’s opening game in the Rainbow Cup against Connacht at Kingspan Stadium (8.15pm).
The Ireland grand slam winner has fluctuated between the wing and No15 this season.
He started Ireland’s last Six Nations game on the wing against England and his last two Ulster appearances in the European Challenge cup were on the left wing.
Stockdale wants his versatility to be an asset.
“I’ve always backed myself to play multiple positions since I was 18, 19, when I was breaking through at Ulster, coming off the bench I was playing a bit of 13 as well,” said Stockdale.
“I wouldn’t necessarily call it an experiment, it’s more [that] people outside of the set-up are starting to see me play more at full-back.
“I’m still enjoying the challenge and obviously Mikey’s (Lowry) been playing brilliantly there, but I think it’s a good option to have as a team, that if Mikey needs to go off then I can jump in at full-back and that gives opportunities for centres to be named on the bench and other wingers to have an opportunity,” he added.
“I really, really enjoy playing full-back - wing probably does feel a little more natural to me just because I’ve played more there, but I really enjoy both of them.”
Stockdale explained the nuances of playing the two different positions.
“In attack, you probably have more opportunities on the ball, at wing, I find that you get five or six opportunities and you have to make them count, whereas full-back you get a few more touches and a few more chances to imprint yourself on the game.
“On the other side of the ball, full-back is tougher, it’s harder work in terms of back-field coverage and making sure there’s no balls bouncing in your 22, which is kind of the gold standard as a full-back, it’s just a different challenge.”
Due to an untimely injury Stockdale only made one Ireland appearance in the spring.
“The injury came at a frustrating time for me, I ended up missing almost all of the Six Nations, so that was frustrating for me,” he said.
“To be able to get these Challenge Cup and Rainbow Cup games in, it’s good to have rugby to play, it’s exciting.
“You don’t want to get an injury a week or two weeks before you’re meant to be going into the Six Nations, so it was frustrating, but there’s nothing you can do about it, it’s part of the sport, I feel like I’ve really come back into the squad fairly seamlessly.”
Stockdale is expecting Connacht to arrive in Belfast fired up as the Rainbow Cup is the western province’s only chance of lifting a trophy this season.
“When you play Connacht, physicality is very important, trying to win that gain-line battle is something that’s important.
“They have a very talented 10 in Jack Carty and he’s a guy who - especially for me as a back three player - if you’re not on your game he’ll ping corners and make you look a bit silly, so that, for me going in, is something I’m definitely focusing on -nnot giving him an inch because he’ll take it.” Skipper Iain Henderson returns to the pack for just his third appearance in the white shirt this season.
Matty Rea comes into the back row for Jordi Murphy.
Stewart Moore at centre and Ethan McIlroy wing start in the back line and there is a welcome return to the matchday squad for Will Addison. The Ireland international has not played since the European Cup game against Bath in January 2020 due to injury.
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